History has a peculiar sense of inevitability. ‘Moments in history’ do not always announce themselves with the bang of gunfire, or from the podium of some political stage. Such moments creep up on us, silently, with a sense of cosmic reality that is bigger than any momentary fascination of our time. And this silent writ of cosmic history continues to shape our collective fortunes, even as we remain ignorant of its scale and scope.
While there is no way of being sure, but one such moment may have occurred earlier this week, as ritualistic worship came to a halt (simultaneously!!) across the holiest places of all Abrahamic religions of the world.
Before, commenting on the importance of this development, let us start with a brief recounting of some of the relevant facts that has resulted in this unprecedented event.
Tawaf-e-Kaaba has been stopped twice before in the last 1400 years. Vatican was shut down, for a few days, during the two world wars. Jerusalem’s worship has been stopped, several times, especially during the Crusades
Coronavirus, and it seemingly unstoppable footprint, has taken the world by a storm. The presence of Coronavirus in human being, caused by the SARS-CoV-2, was first identified in the Wuhan Province of China. The earliest reported symptoms occurred on 1 December 2019, in a person who had not had any exposure to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market.
Since then, from one cell, in one human being, it has (as of this date) spread to 96 countries, resulted in 102,000 confirmed cases (of which 7,100 have been classified as “serious” by the World Health Organization), with major outbreaks in central China, South Korea, Italy and Iran. During the continuing spread of this epidemic, more than 3,400 people have died – around 3,100 in mainland China and some 425 in other countries. On the bright side, more than 57,000 people, who were affected by the virus, have since recovered.
The Coronavirus primarily spreads from one person to another in a manner similar to influenza – via respiratory droplets produced during coughing or sneezing. While scientists across the world are still trying to come to terms with the precise nature of this unprecedented virus, it has been observed that the time between exposure and symptom onset is typically five days, but may range from two to fourteen days. Typically, symptoms manifest in the form of fever, cough, and shortness of breath. There is some evidence that the coronavirus is evolving/mutating to adapt to the changes in temperature and surface conditions.
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Importantly, at present, there is no vaccine or specific antiviral treatment for the Coronavirus, though research is ongoing. In particular, efforts are being aimed at managing symptoms and to provide support therapy. Recommended preventive measures, include sanitization techniques are being recommended, till a vaccine is eventually developed.
Global response to the spread of Coronavirus, initially sluggish, has now caught up with the gravity of the situation at hand. Travel restrictions, to and from places infected with Coronavirus, have been announced by almost all countries. Most countries have ordered an evacuation of foreign citizens and tourists. Foreign aid has been announced for countries struggling with this outbreak.
Schools, businesses and places of public gather have been shut down across various countries. As of 6 March, 291.5 million children and youth are not attending school because of temporary or indefinite countrywide school closures mandated by the relevant government authorities, in an attempt to slow the spread of Coronavirus. According to one estimate, the spread of Coronavirus is likely to result in more than $300 billion in impact on world’s supply chain, highest in history.
In Baldia Factory. On the streets in Liyari. In the deserts of Thar. We spend more time and energy defending Omni Group and Sharif empire, than we ever did in prosecuting Shahrukh Jatoi
All of these are important developments, indicating the critical nature of this growing epidemic. But perhaps the most startling development, captured in a serious of photos that flashed throughout the modern media machine this week, was the closure of almost all places of religious/historical importance for the monotheistic religions of the world.
Specifically, on Thursday of this week, the tawaf in the Holy Kaaba was stopped, and the Zamzam well has been closed first time in history. On the same day, the Wailing Wall (of the old Temple) in Jerusalem was closed to all visitors. Some hours later, on the same day, the Church of Nativity (where Jesus was born) was shut for all congregations. Also, on the same day, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (the place of crucifixion of Jesus) was also shut for visitors.
At the same time, the Al-Aqsa mosque (the place from where the flight of Mairaaj took place) was also shut down for prayer. In Europe, Vatican was closed for its many visitors and priests. Even the Pope did not come out to his balcony, or welcome the devotees. And the following day, within 24 hours, the weekly Friday prayers were suspended at Imam Ali (A.S.)’s shrine in Najaf and Imam Hussain (A.S.)’s shrine in Karbala, out of fear of spreading the Coronavirus.
Let me attempt to put these developments in perspective: this is the first time – in all of human history – that all of these places have been simultaneously shut down for worship and prayer. Tawaf-e-Kaaba has been stopped twice before in the last 1400 years. Vatican was shut down, for a few days, during the two world wars. Jerusalem’s worship has been stopped, several times, especially during the Crusades. But never before, in a religious history spanning more than 5,000 years since Abraham first walked from Cannan to Mecca, have all major places of monotheistic religions been simultaneously prohibited from prayer.
It is as though the God of Adam (A.S.), of Noah (A.S.), of Abraham (A.S.), of Moses (A.S.), of Jesus (A.S.) and, of course, of Muhammad (SAWW) has had enough of our hypocritical life and worship. That whatever was the straw that was going to break the camel’s back, may finally have fallen in its place. That perhaps, the millions clamoring for respite – including children in Syria, in Mayanmar, in Kashmir, in Palestine, in Iraq and the famished deserts of sub-Sahara Africa – may finally have been heard. Our collective inability to address the issues of our time may have precipitated the prophecies of old. And yet we continue to focus on the absurd, while ignoring the important.
In Pakistan, for example, the rabid raucous of the likes of Marvi Sirmid and Khalilur Reham have captured a higher fraction of our collective focus than the screams of Zainab Ansar ever did. We are more obsessed with Nawaz Sharif’s platelet counts than we ever were with the plight of those massacred in Model Town.
In Baldia Factory. On the streets in Liyari. In the deserts of Thar. We spend more time and energy defending Omni Group and Sharif empire, than we ever did in prosecuting Shahrukh Jatoi. We have made heroes out the likes of Rana Sanaullah and Sharjeel Memon while allowing huddled masses to die in hunger on our streets. The likes of Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari have been released (on medical grounds), while thousands languish in disease in our jails, dying in captivity.
Maybe, just maybe, enough has been done. And the God of Torah, of Bible and the Quran, does not want our prayers anymore.
I’ll stop here, before members of the liberal left decide to turn this piece a punchline. But before parting, allow me the indulgence to say one thing: take a moment, in the coming days, by yourself, and reflect on the personal/societal preferences that occupy your time and energy. And maybe, in the process, you will feel the need to repent for individual and collective salvation.
Saad Rasool is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has an LL.M. in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Twitter: @Ch_SaadRasool. This article originally appeared at The Nation and has been republished with the author’s permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.